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Cross Instructor Destined to Save a Life
Ray Steen, Staff Writer, RedCross.org
April 17, 2002
Once or twice a year, Bill Witt, an engineer at Lucent Technologies,
teaches an American Red Cross first aid and CPR course that includes
how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) an
electronic device used to restore a heart's normal rhythm in
the event of sudden cardiac arrest. Bill is also on the Lucent
Indian Hill Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) and teaches
team members how to use AEDs. But on January 11, 2001, Witt's
skills would be put to the test following an unusual chain of
events at the airport.
Following an all-day meeting in Chicago, Witt and a couple
of his colleagues decided to put themselves on standby for an
earlier flight out of Chicago. When the earlier flight arrived,
the airline began reading off the names of standby passengers
to board the flight, when the computer system crashed.
Without computer access, the airline did not have access to
the standby names and had to work out the issue on a first-come,
first-serve basis. After boarding some standby passengers, they
announced there was no more room, leaving Witt and his colleague
Craig Schilder out of luck and waiting for their originally booked
Two hours later Witt
and Schilder boarded their flight out of Chicago, thinking their
troubles were behind them. But just before they took off, a flight
attendant rushed past them to the cockpit. Seconds later the captain's
voice rang over the speakers asking for medical help immediately.
Witt jumped up from
his seat to find a man eight rows back showing signs of a heart
attack. With the help of some flight attendants, Witt lifted the
man onto the floor in case CPR was required.
The flight crew retrieved
the AED from the wall and handed it to Witt.
"Everything I taught just clicked in and I went
through it just like I had learned it," Witt recalled. "It's
really a heck of a device. It has an exact picture of where to
apply the pads and it prompts you through the process the whole
time. Almost anybody can use it as long as they can follow directions."
Witt grabbed the pads, applied them to the victim's chest,
followed the instructions from the AED, and administered the
shock. It worked. Witt could detect a very weak heartbeat as
the man began to breathe a little on his own. Witt quickly climbed
over the seats, and positioned the victim's head to open his
breathing passage, and continued to monitor the victim's vital
signs until medical personnel arrived.
"Hang in there buddy! Stay with me!" Witt shouted
as everyone on the plane stared in silence.
Ten minutes later,
the paramedics arrived and escorted the victim, who was now breathing
on his own, off the plane.
The man received
care at a nearby hospital and five days later underwent surgery
to implant a defibrillator used for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)
survivors. The victim doesn't remember much about the incident,
but gratefully met up with Witt and the flight crew to show his
"It was nice closure. We know this person lived
and was now doing well," Witt said.
Witt's friend and colleague Schilder later said that all of
the problems with the earlier flight were a miracle that
Witt was meant to be on that flight so he could help save a life.
Ironically, the survivor is a firefighter/EMT who, although
has followed the progress of AEDs for the past three to four
years, has never been a proponent of making AEDs accessible to
the public. He is now part of the statistics that validate the
need for early defibrillation by first responders and the treatment
For his life-saving heroics, Bill Witt will be awarded the
American Red Cross Certificate of Merit. This is the highest
award given by the American Red Cross to an individual or team
who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned
in a Red Cross Health and Safety Services course. The certificate
bears the signatures of the President to the United States, who
is the honorary chairman of the Red Cross, and David McLaughlin,
Chairman of the Red Cross.